Just under two weeks ago, I published an article lauding my kid brother’s service in the Israeli Defense Forces (“An Uncomfortable Question”, DATA Bytes Blog, May 1, 2017). The piece described his decision to sacrifice on behalf of his great nation, and concluded with a searing question that I had been grappling with over the day of Yom Hazikaron. The accusation against myself focused on whether I had shirked responsibility by not following in his footsteps, and how I can live up to his example of meaningfully contributing to Am Yisrael.
Reactions to my story were more than encouraging. Many friends reached out to silence my self-indictment. And after a few weeks of thought, at risk of portraying myself as fickle, I sit here to today to compose my own rebuttal.
Jewish tradition is decidedly clear that every individual created in the image of G-d has a distinctive mission on this earth. “Just as their facial features are distinctive, so too are their natures,” says the Talmud, referring to all of mankind. We believe that every individual was bestowed with a unique gift package of talent, disposition, and circumstance, which together with a backdrop of Torah, serve as the briefing for his life’s objective. Indeed, this mission is actually our unique approach to service of G-d. But it’s not always so simple to decode the instructions. We stumble through our early years, grasping for clues, the directive hopefully getting clearer as time progresses. No two assignments are alike, and no assignment is of more importance than another. We are all created equally in the image of G-d, and the only barometer of success in His eyes is measured against our own potential, and never against the accomplishments of someone else.
This alone could have been enough to soothe my unease. However, I have also spent a lot of time during the last few weeks thinking about Judaism’s view on the centrality of studying and teaching Torah. The Talmud is replete with statements and teachings describing the active pursuit of Torah knowledge as the highest form of serving G-d. On some level, studying even one word of Torah is described as equal to performing all the other 612 commandments. The diligent study of Torah is the magic pill that has kept us alive and vibrant for centuries, and teachers of Torah are the Jewish nation’s most valuable assets. They alone ensure the continuity of Am Yisrael as the Holy People.
Every Jew has a mitzvah to study and teach Torah every day, and it is imperative that every single Jew build time into his or her schedule to do so. The tradition of reading from the Torah during services was enacted so that nobody goes more than three days without studying on some level, even if only listening to the reading during services. Three days is the maximum a human can go without water, and Torah study is the hydration for our soul. But the goal of Torah study is its transmission. Passing on the torch of Torah is so vital, that the Torah commands us to study only insofar that we can then pass it on by teaching others. Whether to a child, co-worker, or passerby, we all can teach Torah, even if only by example.
These thoughts served as a strong measure of comfort during the last few weeks that I have been contemplating my mission.
They say that if everyone would stand in a circle and throw their life circumstance in the center for the taking, each person would inevitably take back his own life. Every Jew’s contribution to G-d’s world is invaluable and irreplaceable, and any contention about superiority in mission is childish.
But the opportunity to be entirely focused on transmitting Torah is an opportunity that I have recently become more and more grateful for. Whether through my own personal study, teaching others, or facilitating study, I cherish my job and would desire no other.
While my brother is valiantly defending Am Yisrael from physical attack, I am immeasurably proud to join him arm-in-arm as his counterpart on the spiritual front.
The Jewish people need us both.